God’s Plans Are Bigger than We Often Perceive, and He is Working Them Out Sometimes Despite Us

God promised Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.

In the service this morning, the message was about Joseph. As often happens, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. The depth and nuance and intricate tapestry that is Scripture often works that way.

I will get to the point, but first, I need to build the backstory. Most readers know of Joseph, so I will be brief. Joseph was the youngest of the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac, the famous son of Abraham. Abraham was the man of faith to whom God gave the following promise:

Go from your country [land] and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 ESV)

I added the emphasis and will come back to it. In the meantime, we need to recall that Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, who were jealous of him. They plotted to kill him and left him for dead in the bottom of a well.  He was “rescued” by a passing caravan that sold him into slavery in Egypt.

We could say much about the story of Joseph, but I want to fast forward. Joseph’s life teetered on the edge of utter desperation. He experienced a series of very high highs and very low lows. God ultimately blessed Joseph and elevated him to the second most powerful position in Egypt because of Joseph’s faithful use of the gifts and wisdom God gave him.

Many years after his brothers left him for dead, Joseph superintended a massive grain storage plan for Egypt that positioned his “adoptive” country to weather a long, severe famine and provide food for all its people and other nations besides. That same famine prompted his brothers to travel to Egypt when they were on the verge starvation and desperation.

When they arrived and got inline to buy grain, they had no idea they were appearing before their brother, Joseph, but Joseph recognized them and asked them to go back to Canaan and bring his father, Jacob, back down to Egypt with them.

Joseph’s brothers, his father and the whole tribe returned to Egypt. When they returned and finally realized the powerful man who sent them for their father was Joseph, they were ashamed. They also feared retribution against them for their betrayal, but Joseph was gracious and gave them favorable living conditions until Jacob died.

This is the point of the story that was addressed in the service today. Joseph’s brothers were fearful, still, that he held a grudge after Jacob died and would pay them back for their betrayal. (Gen. 50: 15) They didn’t immediately go to Joseph. Instead, they sent a message to Joseph containing instructions their father, Jacob, gave them to say to Joseph: “’I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’” (Gen. 50: 17)

Much could be said about the fact that they sent their father’s instructions to them, rather than their own, delivering own, heartfelt message to their brother, Joseph, but this story isn’t about them. It’s about Joseph.

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Gen. 50:19-21 ESV) (Emphasis added)

Continue reading “God’s Plans Are Bigger than We Often Perceive, and He is Working Them Out Sometimes Despite Us”

The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of all Mankind – Part 3

God works through the hot mess of our choices to accomplish His purposes.

I am covering some ground in the story of God’s redemption of mankind through Abraham and his progeny. This is a story of God redeeming people because of their faith (trust in God), not for their morality. It’s also a story of God accomplishing His purposes through people despite their messiness.

Abraham and Sarah were childless for 25 years after God gave Abraham promises that He would give Abraham a land for his descendants who would be numerous and that God would bless all the nations through them. On the basis of those promises, Abraham left his ancestral home and journeyed to “a land God would show him”. 

Through those 25 years, Abraham and Sarah continued to live their lives. The moved many times over those years, in and out of the land of Canaan, which is the land God promised to them.

Abraham wavered at times. At one point, when God visited Abraham, Abraham questioned God, saying, “[Y]ou have given me no offspring….”, and telling God (as if He didn’t know), “[T]he heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.” (Gen. 15:2-3)

God God didn’t waiver, though. He renewed the promise, saying, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son [out of your loins] shall be your heir.” (Gen. 15:4)

Years went by. Abraham and Sarah had been in Canaan for 10 years already (Gen. 16:3), and Abraham was 86 years old. (Gen. 16:16), Sarah got impatient and offered her Egyptian servant, Hagar to Abraham, they conceived, and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. (Gen. 16:1-4)

We find out that this wasn’t God’s plan either, but He let 13 more years go by before letting Abraham know. Abraham was 99 years old when God visited again!

God said again, “I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you” (Gen. 17:6); and, “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you.” (Gen.17:8)

How would Abraham have taken that?

God had made this same promise since Abraham stood in Haran imagining the land God was promising him and the descendants he would have, but that was 25 years ago! Abraham was now 99, and Sara was 90. The likelihood that the two of them would have a child together was slim to none.

Thirteen years prior, Abraham had a son. His name was Ishmael. Surely, Abraham thought by that point that Ishmael was the fulfillment of God’s promise, but it wasn’t so.

After almost 25 years, God finally gave Abraham some missing details:

“As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” (Gen. 17:15-16)

Abraham’s response isn’t surprising:

“If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Gen. 17:18)

Abraham had not only come to accept that Ishmael was the fulfillment of God’s promise; Abraham had embraced it. Abraham undoubtedly loved Ishmael, despite his abrasiveness. Thus, his response to God’s new direction was, “What about Ishmael?!”

Why did God wait 25 years from the time He first promised to fill the land with Abraham’s descendants to give Abraham all the details? Why did God let Abraham sleep with Sarah’s servant and have another son first? Why did God wait 13 more years before letting Abraham in on the additional details?

I’m not sure I know the answers. It was obviously God’s plan, though, to fulfill the promise to Abraham through Sarah, his half-sister, the daughter of Abraham’s father, Terah. God also wasn’t done with using the line of Terah in this story.

Continue reading “The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of all Mankind – Part 3”

What We Can Learn from Expectations about What God Is Doing


“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ[i]. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
    that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:25-32)

“Belief in the eventual coming of the mashiach [Messiah] is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism”; though [m]odern scholars suggest that the messianic concept was introduced later in the history of Judaism, during the age of the prophets. The messianic concept is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible)”[ii], but an expectation of the coming of an Anointed One, Messiah (Christ in Greek) developed in the writings of the Prophets, and it reached the height of expectation shortly before the time of Jesus.

“The term ‘mashiach’ literally means ‘the anointed one,’ and refers to the ancient practice of anointing kings with oil when they took the throne. The mashiach is the one who will be anointed as king in the End of Days.”[iii] This is the belief of traditional Judaism, going back, at least, to the Prophets, with expectations building up to the time of Jesus.

This is where Judaism, as it continues to be practiced today, and Christianity diverge. The Jews had very specific ideas of what the Mashiach would do when he appeared, and Jesus didn’t fit their expectations.[iv] They did not expect the Messiah to be God who became man to sacrifice Himself to save the world from sin. Though Jews today still expect the coming of a messiah, they don’t even use the term, “messiah”, anymore because Christians have associated it with Jesus.

They believed the Mashiach would be “well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5), … a “charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example.”[v] These expectations are consistent with Jesus in the New Testament, but other expectations were not. They expected a “great political leader descended from King David[vi]”; a “great military leader, who will win battles for Israel”; a “great judge”; and, most of all, he would be completely and only human. Jews believe the Mashiach will bring people back to Israel and restore Jerusalem, establish the center of world government in Israel, rebuild the Temple, re-establish worship in the Temple, restore the religious court system and establish Jewish law for the world.[vii]

These things are all consistent with what we read in the New Testament about the way the Jewish leaders did not receive Jesus. John 1 says that the Word (Jesus), who was with God in the beginning and through whom God made the universe, came to his own, and his own did not receive him. (John 1:1-11) He didn’t meet their expectations. The religious leaders, the ones who interpreted Scripture and set the expectations for the Messiah to come, rejected Jesus because of the way they interpreted Scripture and perceived what the Messiah would be like.

Continue reading “What We Can Learn from Expectations about What God Is Doing”

The Plans God Has for Us – Part III

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him. 

I


n the previous two blog posts on The Plans God Has for Us, we considered the fact that the often-quoted verse about the plans God us for us – plans to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)[1] – should be viewed in historical context. (Part I) That historical context was the 900-year history of disbelief and disobedience of God’s people ending in 40 years of warning of impending judgment that culminated in the judgment coming to pass with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile. (Part II) In this post, I will try to draw some conclusions in the application of this verse and relevance to our modern lives.

This letter was the message of God through the prophet, Jeremiah, to God’s people that He gave them at the very beginning of their exile. In this letter, God tells them that they will remain in exile for 70 year![2] In fact, this shocking statement – you will be here 70 years – is the statement that immediately precedes the famous verse we all know:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

In a sense, God is telling them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have imposed my judgment on you, and it will last 70 years. But the good news is that I have plans for you, good plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future.

70 years! In an age in which the average life expectancy was about 35 years, that’s two generations! For the vast majority of the exiled people, this meant their lives would end in captivity. What kind of hope and future is that?!

The exile was the judgment God warned them about. God’s people had been so disbelieving and disobedient that God virtually banished them from the very land He promised them about a millennium before.  But even in the midst of this judgment, we need to look carefully at what God is saying. Just before announcing that this judgment thing is going to last 70 years, God gives them instructions:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”[3]

Imagine the 40 years of warning and the weight of that impending doom on those who actually took it seriously. As with most things we fear, the fear is worse than the reality.

During this time of judgment in exile in Babylon, God says to them, basically, “Don’t despair! Go about your lives. Embrace the circumstances into which I have brought you. Live life. Make plans. Bless those around you, seek to better the those around you, and I will bless you.”

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him.

Continue reading “The Plans God Has for Us – Part III”

The Plans God Has for Us – Part II

The overarching theme of the Book of Jeremiah is judgment.


Though Jeremiah 29:11 is often quoted as a stand-alone verse, the context of it dramatically enriches its meaning. The context also reveals meaning that we would miss if we didn’t understand the circumstances in which these words were spoken. This is the main message of the first installment of this three-part series – The Plans God Has for Us – Part I.

When we read the following words, we should be mindful of the context:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Aside from the fact that we often ask God merely to bless our own plans, not considering (or taking seriously) that He has plans for us, this verse is often quoted with anticipation of some immediate or not-too-distant hope and future. But the context suggests that we should apply the verse in a much larger context than the immediate and near future circumstances of our own lives.

Consider that the prophet, Jeremiah, lived and served God during the last four decades before the last of God’s people who were given the Promised Land, the nation of Judah, were overtaken and exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah’s life and prophetic ministry spanned from the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah (627/626 BC) through the siege and capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

These were doom and gloom years in which an ominous cloud of darkness loomed over Judah and eventually swallowed them up. Most of Jeremiah’s ministry focused on warning God’s people of the impending doom.

Jeremiah wasn’t’ a popular prophet (not that prophets are known to be popular). He was imprisoned, and his life was threatened multiple times during the course of his ministry. People didn’t like or receive well the drumbeat of warning that he pounded.

The Book of Jeremiah reveals a prophet whose life was full of emotional angst, as the people of Judah didn’t want to hear what he had to say and were hostile to his message. He was faithful to God in spite of the unpopularity it brought him. He often lamented the hard-heartedness of the people and their refusal to take heed.

“Jeremiah found himself addressing a nation hurtling headlong toward judgment from God. The Israelites may have feared the future as the outside powers drew near, but rather than respond with humility and repentance, the people of Judah primarily lived as islands unto themselves, disregarding both the Lord’s commandments and the increasing danger that resulted from their disobedience.”[i]

Because Jeremiah’s ministry stretched over the 40 years just before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile, the overarching theme of the Book of Jeremiah is judgment. The chronicle of the history of God’s people from the covenant God made with them in the Sinai Desert to the time of Jeremiah was approximately 900 years marked by ongoing disbelief and disobedience, culminating in the Babylonian exile.

Jeremiah 29:11 is quoted from a letter Jeremiah wrote to the Babylonian exiles after the judgment he had been proclaiming for four decades finally came to pass.

The larger context is almost 900 years of disbelief and disobedience from the very people God chose to call His own. The immediate context is 40 years of Jeremiah warning God’s people of God’s imminent judgment and their refusal to listen or change their ways. In that gloomy scenario in which that judgment finally came to pass, Jeremiah writes:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

As we look at the entire letter from Jeremiah to his exiled brethren and consider its application, then and now, the nuances of Scriptural meaning and application to our lives becomes more poignant. We will do this in The Plans God Has for Us – Part III.

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[i] See Insight for Living, Jeremiah, by Charles Swindoll.